Stretching. Meditating. Exercising. Learning. Grounding. Ice bathing. Focused breathing.
These are the daily disciplines of some of the top Spartan athletes in the world. The common thread? They all recognize the importance of coming back to something day after day — even when you really don’t feel like it.
“Many athletes put in hard efforts sporadically,” 2017 Spartan Ultra World Champion Josh Fiore says. “Self-discipline builds consistency, which makes you a career athlete always heading closer to your goals.”
For Fiore, his daily 10-minute meditation practice is “easily one of the most important things that took [his] athleticism to another level.”
That’s the interesting thing: Having a daily discipline that’s not physically training-related, like meditation, can spill over into other aspects of your life, including fitness, according to Jen Welter, Ph.D., a sports psychologist, gold medalist, and the first female NFL coach. It can also make you healthier and happier. A study published in The Journal of Personality found that people with high self-control are more likely to have higher levels of well-being and happiness.
The good news is, if you brush your teeth every day, you already know how to create a daily discipline. So, how does one level-up the teeth-brushing habit, and make writing in a training journal or foam rolling or those physical therapy exercises you know you *should* do, a daily discipline? Here’s how.
7 Healthy Habits to Start Doing Daily
1. Don’t Make It Optional
In a time when so many things are outside of your control, your self-discipline is something fully within your control, Welter says. You get to wake up and make the choice to meditate instead of hitting snooze, or to prioritize sleep instead of logging a third workout of the day. (Yes, discipline is also about knowing when it’s time to stop.)
“Whatever area it is that you want to create a discipline in, you have to prove to yourself that it's not too crazy, and that you are capable, and that it's a choice,” she says. “And if you can make a commitment and a choice in one area, you certainly can do it in another.”
2. Always Put It on Your List
For many highly driven people, they feel like they're cheating if they're doing something that’s not on their to-do list. But if you're trying to understand how to build healthy habits, you have to focus on yourself.
“The way that you mentally shift that is by putting yourself on your list of things to focus on,” Welter says. "When you see it, it'll be your reminder. By doing the things that you said you were going to do, you create psychological momentum for yourself.”
3. Remove Excuses
So, let’s say you're trying to build the healthy habit of exercising every day, and you put it on your list of morning to-dos.
“It's not just the choice that you make in the morning, it's one that you make at night, too,” Welter says. “It's going to be hard to wake up if you chose to go to bed at four o'clock in the morning.”
Create a nighttime routine to help you wind down in time to get a solid eight hours of sleep, lay out your clothes the night before — whatever you can do to help your future self stick to your new healthy habit.
The same goes for meditation. If work emails start pouring in at 7 a.m., plan to get up at 6:45 a.m. so you can meditate before the daily grind starts.
4. Use Momentum
“We are creatures who like success, and even small successes can create momentum,” Welter says.
When people tell her they don’t have time to go to the gym every day, she asks them to commit to 20 minutes, three times a week (the minimum, she says, to get those endorphins flowing). The mental clarity and physical transformation that they get from that small commitment fuels them to do more.
"Building that healthy habit becomes something that makes them feel better, and they want to do it every day,” she explains.
5. Bring In Recruits
“One of the best things I ever did was set up the most intense [group fitness] class that I taught every week on Saturday morning,” Welter says. “On the days that I may not have felt like I wanted to get out of bed for myself, I would get up and do my very best because I knew I had a group of people who were there for me.”
Magdalena Cvetkovic, a Spartan Pro athlete based in Hong Kong, can relate.
“I hate time trials because they are so painful, but I just make myself stick to them and do them with a friend rather than alone,” she says.
Even if you don't have a committed workout buddy, you can enlist an accountability partner. Maybe it’s a friend that lives across the country — or world — that you text when you complete a fitness hurdle. Even telling your significant other the night before, "Hey, I'm planning to get up tomorrow. Can you hold me to it?" can help.
6. Say It Out Loud
“Saying things out loud makes them intentional, and that’s powerful,” Welter says.
Whether it's whispering it to yourself in your car, calling a family member to tell them about it, or screaming it from the rooftop, vocalize your healthy habit out into the Universe.
7. If You Fail, Recover Fast
Welter says that many people look at discipline like a balance beam — they’re either on, or off. But the problem with that logic is that eventually all of us will fail. The key, she says, is avoiding what she calls “the rabbit hole of nothing.”
Let’s say your new healthy habit is avoiding added sugar. You might eat a single cookie and end up feeling like a cheater, and just go ahead and eat five more cookies.
Related: 5 Reasons Why Failure Is Good for You
“If you need to have a cookie, then have a cookie and go have a better workout,” Welter says.
If you missed your morning walk, try to get it in after work, or go twice as far tomorrow.
Essentially, a slip-up is recoverable. When life gets in the way, it doesn't make you a horrible person, because that’s what self-discipline is all about.
“It’s not just a one day, two day, all-or-nothing thing,” says Welter. “A healthy habit is a part of your being, it's a part of who you are.”